Punch Editorial Board
A recent fuel tanker explosion in Lagos that roasted 12 persons alive and burnt 54 vehicles has nudged the state government into recalibrating the extant framework for traffic management of vehicles laden with fuel and other cargo-bearers. It is unfortunate that it took carnage of this scale for it to be shocked out of its inertia and to discover that traffic laws in the state are flagrantly breached. A similar incident was averted yesterday at Iyana Ipaja, a Lagos suburb.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Ladi Lawanson, while unfurling the outcome of a preliminary investigation into the Otedola Bridge tragedy, attributed it to human error. But it is squarely a product of government’s failure to enforce its traffic laws, inefficiency of the Federal Road Safety Commission and incompetence of the police and Vehicle Inspection Office. The truck was originally designed as a 15-tonne drilling rig, but criminally converted to 30 tonnes, thus doubling its capacity.
In retrospect, if the right lessons were learnt from the fuel tanker explosion at FESTAC Link Bridge, Amuwo-Odofin, in 2014, which destroyed no fewer than 25 cars; the routine falling of badly latched containers from Ojuelegba Bridge that crush vehicles and their occupants, the Idimu and Iyana-Ipaja fuel tanker infernos, which destroyed 21 vehicles, 34 houses, 70 shops in 2015, the latest incident would not have occurred in the first place.
For 13 times, ownership of the ill-fated truck changed hands after its initial registration in Nasarawa State. How long its deadly operations spanned without the authorities detecting that it was an accident waiting to happen is not known yet. Many articulated vehicles doing business in the state might have the same fatal bearing, given the penchant of commercial drivers for breaking laws in Nigeria.
To tame the scourge, the government now insists on fuel-laden trucks plying earlier designated routes – Apapa Oworonsoki Expressway via Ogudu to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It has also given owners of such vehicles entering the state a 30-day ultimatum to obtain a Ministry of Transportation certificate of roadworthiness, while barriers are to be installed on bridges at Ojuelegba, Bank-Anthony Way, Lekki-Ajah and Abule-Egba; just as it is to weigh alternative modes of transport for petroleum products within the city against the backdrop of its recurrent danger to human and other vehicular traffic.
But another MOT certificate is out of the question, as it is another form of multiple taxation. Vehicle documentation is centralised by acceptance of documents issued by any state throughout the country; therefore, a roadworthiness certificate obtained in one state should be accepted in another, provided that a physical inspection of the said vehicle by the authorities validates the claim thereto. There should be renewed energy and synergy among the FRSC, police and VIO for all articulated vehicles to operate within the bounds of the law.
Unfortunately, searing waves of graft have not helped matters. Law enforcement authorities watch idly by as the articulated vehicles avoid the corridors set aside for them. They mount roadblocks just to extort money from them. This explains why tankers, trailers, tippers and other vehicles ply the roads with worn-out tyres, some with bare rims that damage the roads, and without rear lights and caution signs. Many of them have caused countless fatalities, with smokes billowing from their exhausts, which obliterate completely the visibility of drivers behind them.
We are not persuaded by the efficacy of the commissioner’s meeting with the stakeholders, namely NUPENG, Petroleum Tanker Drivers, National Association of Transport Operators, Containers Truck Owners Association of Nigeria, Association of Maritime Truck Owners, among others, given the fact that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode held a similar meeting with them in 2015 and set up a committee. Also, the FRSC boss, Boboye Oyeyemi, had initiated similar dialogues, whose effects soon petered out. After one of the meetings, Oyeyemi disclosed that it came to light that most of the crashes occurred as a result of drivers yielding their steering wheel to motor boys or conductors.
This perversity does not happen in other climes where law enforcement agencies are effectively at work. These post-disaster ruminations with tanker drivers should stop. They are knee-jerk reactions that do not frontally address the problem. Therefore, the law must be invoked against delinquent drivers, just as strict enforcement of the Lagos State Traffic Law 2012 should be non-negotiable. It is in this context that government’s decision to prosecute the owner of the tanker and its driver is welcome.
However, the Otedola Bridge is prone to accidents; elsewhere, the frequency would have inspired curiosity of sorts, or search for the cause by municipal or town planning authorities, with a view to ultimately proffering a lasting solution. Now is the time to do so, just as bad roads which sometimes trigger these disasters need to be fixed. Also, weigh-bridges are not deployed to service on highways, and thorough and regular inspections carried out on heavy-duty vehicles to ensure public safety. If this had been the case, the capacity of the ill-fated fuel tanker would have long been discovered.
Sadly, at the root of all this is the indefensible and farcical regime of importation of fuel for which this caravan of cargo vehicles from Maiduguri, Kano, Sokoto and other parts of the country daily streams into the city to lift the product. This must end.
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